It's one thing to create an ultra-realistic flight simulation, but it's quite another to design it so that novice to intermediate pilots won't feel intimidated. And while it's great for a sim to be as realistic as possible - it would be slammed by every serious flight sim fanatic in the world if it weren't - that doesn't mean there's no place for options that allow newbies to fine-tune the degree of realism, or for a well-organized manual to help them understand the myriad weapons, gauges, and controls on a modern attack jet. And for it to qualify as a first-rate product, it also needs features such as a mission editor, wingmen you can communicate with, and a campaign mode, to name a few.
A-10 Cuba!, which bills itself as both an "ultra-realistic flight simulation" and "the most realistic flight combat simulator ever," is a perfect example of what I'm talking about. Without question, A-10 Cuba! employs a very realistic flight model, and the air-combat action - which ranges from tank-killing sorties and escort missions to a bridge-busting assignment and a strike on an enemy commander's home - is fast, furious, and very satisfying.
The cockpit display is one of the most impressively detailed I've ever seen, and what's more, it is actually interactive: You can toggle switches and turn knobs via the mouse. And while gamers accustomed to texture-mapped extravaganzas might sneer at the polygon-based graphics here, they do make for a stunningly impressive frame rate - even running at 1024x768 - and the planes look pretty good, especially from an external view.
But in several crucial areas, A-10 Cuba! falls short of the competition. Its most glaring deficiency is the lack of a printed manual; the only documents you get with this game are the registration card, a layout of the keyboard commands, an order form for ThrustMaster flight sticks, and an almost worthless jewel-case insert that's woefully thin on useful information. The latter contains a screenshot with captions describing various cockpit flight instruments, but the picture and text are both so small you'd need a magnifying glass to get any real use out of it.
To be fair, A-10 Cuba! does come with online Help, but there's just too much information here to be covered adequately in this format - and if you stay in the Help file too long while the game is running, you'll be kicked out by a demo that you can't disable. This simply doesn't cut it for a flight sim, especially one that boasts how "ultra-realistic" it is. Novice and even intermediate flight-sim fans need a manual they can keep at their side for quick reference, and novices especially would benefit from a "basics of flight" type tutorial - the kind that's found in the manual of many PC air-combat sims.
Other common features are missing, too. There's no specific support for popular four-button flight sticks such as the CH FlightStick Pro or the Microsoft SideWinder 3D Pro - or if there is I couldn't find it in the Help file. (Then again, the numerous keyboard commands almost dictate using some type of programmable stick or throttle.) While the 12 combat missions are varied and exciting, and the game's AI routines for enemy forces guarantee that no single mission will pan out the same way twice, that doesn't change the fact that there are only 12 missions - a pretty sparse amount for a flight sim. The situation is made even worse by the lack of a mission editor.
There's no way to communicate with wingmen; no way to change your waypoints; no campaign mode (except to play the 12 combat missions in order); no way to access a mission briefing during a sortie; no "auto-navigate" feature to guide you to a waypoint; no toggle for stalls; no variable difficulty modes; and no option to skip take-off and start in the air (though many targets are so close by you might want to take off just to make the experience last longer).
It's true that A-10 Cuba! carries a very low sticker price - and if you trade in a copy of A-10 Tank Killer, Silent Thunder: A-10 Tank Killer II, ATF, AH64 LongBow, F-22 Lightning, SU-27, or EF2000, Activision will send you a check for $15, which means you could get this game for as little as $14 or $15. Considering the fun to be had dogfighting over a LAN or modem, that really boosts the value rating.
Longtime flight-sim fans will take to the realism of A-10 Cuba! like ducks to water, and forgive it its shortcomings - easy to do with a sim offering such an authentic flight model and intense combat missions. But if you're relatively new to the genre, you might want to try a sim that allows graduated levels of realism and more features, and includes a printed manual.